Columbus builds its smart city operating system

GCN – by Matt Leonard

Columbus, Ohio, is procuring the operating system that will collect, analyze and share data for its multiple smart city efforts. The Smart Columbus Operating System is seen as a vital part of achieving what the city promised when it won the Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge in 2016.

The city describes the SCOS as “the heartbeat of the Smart Columbus Program.” Jodie Bare, the deputy program manager for Columbus and leader of the SCOC development, called it “the backbone” of the efforts. It’s also been called “brains.”

Whatever body part it’s compared to, the operating system will make other aspects of the city’s plan possible.

“Certainly there are data management platforms out there,” Bare told GCN. “But [none as] far reaching … serving up all the data needs of so many different projects and bridging data from both the public and private sector.”

SCOS will collect data from a variety of sources  — both public and private —  and provide a web interface or portal for internal and external use. It will also include analytics and visualization capabilities.

The first priority for the operating system is serving the needs of the eight projects outlined in the DOT grant.

One of these projects is the Multimodal Trip Planning Application/Common Payment System, designed to help residents find the quickest and cheapest commuting options. It pulls data from GIS mapping and transportation options including biking, ride share services and buses, and helps coordinate and facilitate payments.

Data from the operating system will be used by the city for decision-making and planning.

“Analytics that utilize data from across various systems in Columbus will have tremendous potential to identify new insights and unique solutions for delivering services, thereby improving outcomes,” according to the grant agreement between the city and DOT. “Analytics will also be used to predict future conditions and the potential benefits of implementing different operational strategies, control plans, and response plans coordinated among agencies and service providers.”

The city has already started building the SCOS.

“We have a really small team in place today, and we have a lot more work to do like adding in the real-time and near-real-time data streaming capabilities and establishing our data management platform,” Bare said.

The SCOS will have different levels of access; many datasets will be open through a public portal, but some will require greater levels of authentication to access.

It is also working on the open data portal, which is where the community will be able to access the SCOS data. Data on the portal will fall into three categories: static, real time and near real time. The open data is being stored in an Amazon cloud and will be released later this month to an early focus group, Bare said.

The city also wants SCOS to use open source software so the code can be published for other cities to leverage. It’s using an agile methodology for this project, and therefore is looking for a firm familiar with these practices, Bare said.

Responses to the request for proposals are due by Feb. 13. It can be accessed through the city’s vendor services portal.


About the Author

Matt Leonard is a reporter/producer at GCN.

Before joining GCN, Leonard worked as a local reporter for The Smithfield Times in southeastern Virginia. In his time there he wrote about town council meetings, local crime and what to do if a beaver dam floods your back yard. Over the last few years, he has spent time at The Commonwealth Times, The Denver Post and WTVR-CBS 6. He is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, where he received the faculty award for print and online journalism.

Leonard can be contacted at or follow him on Twitter @Matt_Lnrd.

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